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Eagles' no-name defense doing its part

The Birds are much stingier with points than yards, and have played a big role in team's turnaround.

Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin, left, and defensive tackle Bennie Logan bring down Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris during an NFL football game in Philadelphia, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/The News-Journal, Andre L. Smith)
Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin, left, and defensive tackle Bennie Logan bring down Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris during an NFL football game in Philadelphia, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013. (AP Photo/The News-Journal, Andre L. Smith)Read more

THERE HAS been a lot of attention given recently to Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and the rest of the Eagles' offense, which seems to have finally hit its stride. But how about some attention for a defense that has held opponents to an average of 17.4 points per game since that 52-20 loss at Denver in Week 4?

In the wake of that lopsided loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sept. 29, the defensive unit has turned things around and become a big reason the Eagles have gone 5-2 after starting the season 1-3.

While defensive coordinator Bill Davis has seen improvement each week since Denver, he hopes the defense will continue to grow and improve through the end of the season.

"I think the team in general has done a nice job in getting us where we are," said Davis, whose Eagles return from the bye week to practice tomorrow in preparation for Sunday's home game against Arizona. "It's nice the defense is getting better every week. The [points against] are really what we focus on. The points were really low there for a while, but then in the fourth quarter it slipped away from us.

"The guys just keep fighting and they are growing together as a group. It's fun to watch and we have to finish this thing the right way. Hopefully it continues to grow and get better."

Davis' defense is known for bending but not breaking. Going into Week 12, it was 31st in the league in yards allowed per game (417.9, better only than Dallas) but 15th in points allowed (23.6).

Since Denver, Davis and his players alike have seen a noticeable difference in the defensive play that has come with adjusting to the new 3-4 scheme. While Davis understood there would be a learning curve, he said that he is happy to see the defense headed in the right direction.

"I think it's about the growth we have been talking about since the beginning," Davis said. "The first time we played Washington, it was going to be the starting point. You know when you take over an undertaking like this with major scheme changes, coaching changes and player changes, it is going to take a while to grow.

"It is nice to see the way it is growing, but it's got a lot of room to grow. It's nice that we are moving in the right direction."

After the departures of defensive end Jason Babin during the 2012 season and cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason, the Eagles were left with few big names on defense.

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans doesn't mind having the defense fly under the radar.

"I like it when there's not a lot of recognition given to our guys, not a lot of people talking about the defensive side of the ball," he said. "You just have a lot of hard-working guys that put their head down and work. They are not concerned with the publicity or press. They are just worried about, 'Did I do my job well enough to win on that play?'

"When you have that type of attitude, the recognition and those types of things will come. But those guys aren't worried about it, so it allows us to play together as a unit and unselfishly."

Ryans and fellow linebacker Connor Barwin played in Houston with big-name defensive end J.J. Watt. They agreed that the goal in Philadelphia has been simply to play good defense and to stay physical and not worry about individual recognition.

"We don't have any egos on the defense or anything like that," Barwin said. "It's fun to play with guys that their goal is to play good defense and shut guys down. As long as we keep that up and keep 11 guys running to the ball and stay physical, we will be fine."

Arguably the most impactful member of the defense this year has been Ryans, who leads the team with 76 total tackles, with two sacks. While Ryans' success is not that surprising to many, young players such as cornerback Brandon Boykin stepping up in key situations has helped this defense slow down some of the league's premier offenses. Boykin, whose interception of the Redskins' Robert Griffin III sealed the Eagles' win last week, leads the team with four picks.

"It's totally different," Ryans said when asked what has changed from 2012, when the Eagles gave up 27.8 points per game en route to a 4-12 season. "We have great chemistry and a lot of younger guys that we have fun with, not only here but outside of here. We will go eat dinner together and we will just go have a good time together. They are like brothers, not only on the field but off the field."

Although Davis believes the defense is ahead of schedule, he said it usually takes a year after a unit starts with a new scheme to get to where it should be. The Eagles still hope to improve in a few areas, starting with eliminating big plays.

"I feel like that we can always improve our running game," Ryans said. "We gave too many yards rushing the ball and the big passing play. I feel like we did a good job of minimizing them, but we need to do a better job of eliminating big plays.

"When I go back and look at the big plays teams have gotten on our defense, it's because of a bonehead mistake here and there that we have done ourselves, not because of something that an offense has done. It's us shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes. If we can eliminate them to zero in a game, that's where we want to be."